December 15, 2021
I received a repost today discussing an article that was originally posted on Aug. 19, 2021, in Health Day News. This said some key brain functions can improve in people as they age, challenging the notion that our mental abilities decline as we grow old. Researchers found that as we age many appear to get better at focusing on critical brain functions like memory, decision making, and self-control. Lead researcher João Veríssimo, assistant professor at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, and his team looked at three components of mental ability in a group of more than 700 Taiwanese people between 58 and 98 years of age. The brain components were, alerting (enhanced vigilance to incoming information), orienting (ability to shift brain resources to a particular location), and executive inhibition (ability to ignore distractions to focus). These three components are constant processes that allow us to navigate daily life.
The groups testing showed only alerting declined with age among study participants, while orienting and executive function improved into a person’s mid-to-late 70’s. Veríssimo’s team thinks the improvement might come with experience. We use orienting and executive inhibition skills our whole life, and it makes sense they would improve with lifelong practice. It may also be that the brain is very good at shifting its resources to support the more crucial mental abilities as we age. However, Michael Ullman, of Georgetown’s Brain and Language Lab, in Washington, D.C., said we must also acknowledge that all good things come to an end. No matter how strong our experience, eventually age will win out. Staying cognizant longer seems to be more of a choice than an exception.
While the original study was published August, the repost was dated today and took a different spin on the data presented. This stated while the brain is no longer as fast, it is more flexible. As we age, we make slower decisions, but more right decisions. The peak of human intellectual activity occurs at 70 years old. As we age, the myelin in the brain increases, and this substance facilitates the rapid passage of signals between neurons. This results in an average 300% increase in intellectual abilities between 60 to 80 years old. Further, after 60 a person can use both hemispheres of the brain at the same time, allowing you to solve more complex problems. Professor Monchi Uri of the University of Montreal believes elderly people chose the least energy-intensive path and cuts right to the options to solve problems. Young people were confused by possible options in testing, while those over 60 made the right decisions.
Thoughts: As I read through the various articles it stuck me how Boomers are reluctant to grow old. Boomers believed we were smarter and more able to adapt to the changing technological innovations than our elders when we were young. As we age, researchers (Boomers?) are finding our brain is still smarter than our younger co-workers. One proof offered was the number of Noble winning scientists in their 70’s and Corporate business leaders in their 60’s. When Boomers were in their 40’s, this was what was called the glass ceiling. What the research seems to imply is that innovation is afforded to those who are willing to risk innovating, regardless of age. We all bring different strengths and weaknesses to the community table and when faced with challenges, the more diverse our network of associates is (ethnic, age, sex), the more likely we will arrive at the best conclusion. Do the work. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.